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Emeralds: The Rich History, Mystery and Origin of May's Birthstone

Updated: Jun 26, 2023

Emeralds have been coveted by royalty, dignitaries, and collectors for thousands of years. Cleopatra, the last queen of ancient Egypt, was said to have a particular fondness for emeralds and often adorned herself with the prized green gemstone. In fact, emeralds have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs dating back to 1500 BCE. These gemstones have also been treasured by the likes of Alexander the Great, Spanish conquerors, and Mughal emperors.



Ancient painting depicting emerald on cleopatra
Emeralds have been prized since ancient times.


One of the things that make emeralds so special is their rich history and mystery. In ancient times, they were believed to have healing powers and were used for medicinal purposes. Emeralds were also said to protect against evil spirits and were believed to bring good fortune. Over time, emeralds have become associated with love, prosperity, and renewal. It's no wonder they are such a popular choice for engagement rings and other special occasions.


Emeralds are a variety of the mineral beryl and are distinguished by their vivid green color, and are formed deep within the earth's crust, under intense pressure and heat. They are a type of beryl, a mineral family that also includes aquamarine which is blue and morganite which is pink. Emeralds are formed when beryl combines with chromium and vanadium, two elements that give the stone its characteristic green colour. The process of emerald formation can take millions of years and involves a number of geological events, including the movement of tectonic plates, the intrusion of magma, and the interaction of hot water and mineral-rich fluids. The resulting crystals are then mined from the earth's crust and cut and polished into the beautiful gemstones we know and love today. The color can range from a light green to a deep forest green, and the intensity of the color is one of the most important factors in determining the value of an emerald.


Rough Zambian emerald.
A 320 ct rough Zambian emerald that was cut in house and yielded over 60 cts of fine cut emeralds. Two of them exceeding 10 cts each,

The most prized emeralds come from Colombia, where they are mined in the Andes Mountains. Colombian emeralds are known for their intense color and exceptional clarity. Other sources of emeralds include Zambia, Brazil, Zimbabwe, and Ethiopia. Pakistani emeralds are also highly sought after and are known for their unique bluish-green color.

Emeralds are one of the most difficult gemstones to cut and polish, which is why they are often cut in the form of an emerald cut, a rectangular shape with cut corners. Because of their fragility, emeralds are often treated with oil to enhance their color and improve their clarity. However, the treatment must be disclosed and should not be excessive.



Columbian Emerald
A large Columbian Emerald sourced for a bespoke engagement ring.

The value of an emerald is largely dependent on its colour and clarity. The most valuable emeralds are those that exhibit a rich, deep green colour with a high degree of transparency and minimal visible inclusions. Such stones are extremely rare and can command astronomical prices. However, emeralds with lighter hues and more visible inclusions are also prized for their unique beauty, and may be more affordable for those who still wish to own an emerald without breaking the bank.


When it comes to clarity, most emeralds will have some inclusions due to the way they are formed in the earth's crust. However, the presence of too many inclusions can negatively impact the stone's overall beauty and value. For this reason, emeralds that are nearly free of visible inclusions are highly sought after and command a premium price. On the other hand, emeralds with more visible inclusions may be valued for their unique character and individuality. Ultimately, the value of an emerald is in the eye of the beholder, and there is no right or wrong when it comes to choosing a stone that speaks to you.



Zambian emerald in ring
10.71 ct Natural Zambian emerald , sourced on the rough and cut in house.


While emeralds are a timeless and beautiful gemstone, they are also incredibly rare and valuable. In fact, a high-quality emerald can be even more valuable than a diamond of the same size. For collectors and investors, emeralds can be a sound investment, with the price of high-quality stones continuing to rise year after year.


When it comes to caring for emeralds, it's important to remember that they are relatively soft and can be easily scratched or chipped. To clean emeralds, simply use a soft cloth and mild soap and water. Avoid using ultrasonic cleaners or steamers, as they can damage the gemstone.



Grading a fine Columbian emerald.
Emerald grading, selection and buying is a hard to learn skill developed over many years of working with them.


At Clayton Delville, we pride ourselves on our ability to source the finest quality emeralds from around the world. We work with trusted and reputable sources to ensure that every gemstone we offer is of the highest quality and authenticity with certification for added piece of mind. Whether you're looking for a loose emerald or a custom-designed piece of jewellery, we have the expertise and experience to create a stunning and unique piece that reflects your style and personality.

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